Javon Jackson at Blues Alley
The stunning eclecticism that tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson usually displays on his recordings was somewhat tempered Wednesday at Blues Alley. It's not entirely surprising because his new album, "Pleasant Sunday," travels mostly in the pocket of funky soul jazz, where his previous records reveled in arty ambiance and gritty arrangements. But during his opening set it was entirely obvious that Jackson, once a member of Art Blakey's legendary hard bop Jazz Messengers, learned in bunches from his former leader. Forget art, let's dance.
Jackson's quartet included guitarist John Hart and a dream duo straight from the original soul jazz revolution: drummer Idris Muhammad and organist Lonnie Smith. This rhythm section is individually responsible for tons of acid jazz riffs sampled by electronic artists and Muhammad and Smith proved they could still kick out the jams. But Hart immediately declared he belonged in such funky company by drilling a furious solo during the boiling opener, "Milestones."
Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" allowed Jackson to display his confident tone and leadership abilities; after his own subtle solo he exhorted Hart to take another long and invigorating excursion across his frets. Smith's "If You See Kay" was pure funk, crispy as a burned duck. As the organist blasted clipped riffs, Hart shredded through another extended solo. The band finally slowed down with the ballad "Body and Soul" but it soon faded into another blowout with Al Green's "Love and Happiness." If Reverend Green were among the packed audience, he would have felt blessed.
Flaming Lips at 9:30
The First International Music Against Brain Degeneration Revue touched down at the 9:30 club Friday night. Featuring IQU, Cornelius, Robyn Hitchcock, Sebadoh and ringmasters the Flaming Lips, FIMABDR was a multimedia showcase for skewed pop and grand performance ideas. Too bad so little of it was worth enduring.
The indie-techno of IQU and the electronica-influenced rock of Cornelius gave way to the intensely grating Hitchcock. His wacky, Syd Barrett-influenced tunes make him the Weird Al for the intellectual set brought up on '80s college radio. But Weird Al is funny and someone should hand Hitchcock the white courtesy phone, because it is over.
Sebadoh featured the same division of catchy guitar pop from Lou Barlow and tiresome punk rants of Jason Lowenstein that makes listening to its albums an exercise in CD programming. Even the normally fantastic Flaming Lips couldn't lift the night into the stars.
Primarily playing songs from their captivating new release "The Soft Bulletin," the Flaming Lips featured synchronized video images projected behind them and a short-range broadcast of the show so patrons could listen to the performance on headphones for extra audio depth. Unfortunately, the music was so unrelentingly loud, as well as often muddy and distorted, that it blocked out the sound from the headphones. Orchestrated psychedelic pop gems like "She Don't Use Jelly" and "Waiting for a Superman" still shined, but for a band so locked into the powers of sonic experimentation and the mind-bending capabilities of audio trickery, the bad live sound was decidedly disappointing.